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Preparing to teach literacy

3. Assessment and student teacher attainment

3.1 Formal requirements

3.1.1 Arrangements for Initial Teacher Education [ITE] in Scotland are contained within Guidelines for Initial Teacher Education Programmes in Scotland (SOEID 1998). These guidelines require all student teachers who successfully complete a programme leading to a teaching qualification in primary education in Scotland to be able to teach English language at all levels ranging from the introduction of early literacy to Level F, as described in National Guidelines 5-14. More generally, teachers are required to deliver a fully rounded and stimulating curriculum at the pre-school stage, including an appropriate emphasis on literacy skills. These Guidelines also set out the 'competences' which should be acquired by all (pre-school, primary and secondary) teachers completing a programme in teacher education. They include the statement that the teacher must have the ability to play his or her full part in developing pupils' skills in literacy.

3.1.2 The broad competences included in the Guidelines are elaborated in the Standard for ITE in Scotland Benchmark Information (produced by the Standing Committee on Quality Assurance in ITE in Scotland, and circulated in February 2000. This document carries the logo of GTC Scotland, SEED and QAAHE). The benchmark statements in this document will, in August 2002, replace the current competences in the 1998 Guidelines. The key benchmark for ITE in relation to literacy is that student teachers are enabled to acquire the knowledge and understanding to fulfil their responsibilities to meet pupils' learning needs in relation to reading and writing.

3.2 Assessment of student teacher attainment

3.2.1 Each of the HEIs assessed the extent to which student teachers had acquired the competences referred to in the Guidelines. All HEIs had assessment arrangements for each programme that were designed to be robust and consistent. Staff agreed standards, discussed the application of criteria and engaged in a range of cross-marking and agreement exercises. External examiners verified the consistency of marking within institutions and helped to ensure consistency of standards across all the HEIs.

Programmes for primary teachers

3.2.2 All BEd and PGCE (Primary) programmes assessed student teachers' performance using a range of key assignments. In the assignments that were most effective in developing and assessing student teachers' understanding, the tasks were clearly specified, planned to complement student teachers' HEI and school experience and evaluated alongside evidence of practical activities related to teaching and pupils' learning. In a few programmes, the design of assignments needed to be revised to include this linking of HEI teaching, school experience and good practice in learning and teaching as key ingredients for evaluation.

3.2.3 Generally, student teachers were fully aware of what was expected of them in the assignments set, the expected time for submission and the criteria for assessment. The guidance given to students underlined the importance of using assignments to demonstrate the links between theories about developing literacy and classroom practice.

3.2.4 The other significant aspect of assessment was evaluation of student teachers' work in their placement schools. This evaluation normally involved formal assessments and reports by both the visiting HEI tutor and the school staff supporting the student teachers, though school staff did not yet have a formal role in all programme assessment arrangements. There were particularly significant variations in the extent to which school staff were expected to contribute to assessment in PGCE (Primary) programmes.

3.2.5 In general, school staff made very helpful contributions to the assessment process, based on their close experience of the student teacher's work with classes and as a temporary member of the school team. There was, however, no guarantee in any primary programme that student teachers would be formally assessed by a tutor while teaching reading or writing. Although school staff did normally observe student teachers teaching literacy, the formal written assessments of placements completed by tutors did not always have specific comment on the student teachers' ability to promote pupils' literacy skills. Similarly, where arrangements were in place for student teachers to engage in self-evaluation or peer-evaluation, there was no requirement to address literacy issues. However, student teachers kept their own records of their experience on school placements. These files included specific references to the development of pupils' literacy and the student teachers' reflections on the success of the learning and teaching undertaken. It was less evident whether this constituted good evidence of student teachers' actual classroom skills as developing teachers of literacy. HEIs should review the arrangements for tutors visiting and assessing student teachers on placement to ensure that all student teachers are formally assessed by a tutor while teaching reading and/or writing.

3.2.6 There was also an issue about the expertise of the assessing tutor when the student teacher was observed teaching literacy. When a language specialist was the assessor, student teachers were aware that there was a clear emphasis on the literacy content of a lesson. When student teachers were assessed by a tutor with another specialism, even where the lesson focused on literacy issues, student teachers sometimes felt that the evaluation was limited to generic issues of learning and teaching and did not address the quality of the literacy teaching directly. This point is relevant to the suggestions elsewhere in this report about staff development on literacy for HEI staff who are not language specialists and about the need to include attention to language and learning in all HEI programmes.

Programmes for secondary teachers

3.2.7 Student teachers' competence was assessed in secondary programmes through assignments and participation in workshops and through assessment of practical work while on teaching placements. Student teachers were not always clear about the weightings of the different assessment elements within the programmes.

3.2.8 All of those following a secondary teaching qualification (English) undertook assignments which demanded some independent study into aspects of developing pupils' literacy skills. These assignments were often well designed to require student teachers to link relevant principles and theoretical ideas to effective practice. However, they did not always focus sufficiently on developing and assessing student teachers' awareness of how to improve individual pupils' skills or address particular difficulties which pupils might encounter.

3.2.9 In the programmes leading to a secondary qualification in a subject other than English, student teachers were not always asked to carry out assignments to assess their understanding of literacy issues and the implications for their teaching. In some cases, student teachers were also unclear about how their attainment of the competence was being assessed. However, in some programmes, assignments focused student teachers' attention on taking appropriate account of pupils' prior attainment and the skills, including literacy skills, which pupils had acquired. Overall, the assessment of the literacy competence in these programmes needed to be made more transparent, thorough and secure, to reinforce the message that every teacher needs to play his or her full part in developing pupils' skills in literacy.

3.3 Student teacher attainment

3.3.1 The review teams sampled the available evidence of student teachers' attainment gathered by the HEIs in order to form a view on how well the programmes prepared student teachers to meet pupils' literacy needs. As well as observing student teachers at work on campus and on school placement, they saw examples of student teachers' written work and gathered the perceptions of tutors, of teachers in schools where student teachers had been placed, and of the student teachers themselves. No attempt was made to compare standards across HEIs, but review teams took account of reports by external examiners, who have a key role in ensuring consistency of standards both within and across teacher education programmes. It was not the aim of the review to assess the competence of individual student teachers.

Attainment in programmes for primary teachers

3.3.2 In general, student teachers following the BEd programmes were being prepared well to play a full part in developing pupils' skills in literacy and they had a broad grasp of issues related to the development of children's skills. In the BEd programmes, there was clear evidence of progression in student teachers' teaching skills. In some HEIs, student teachers attributed this directly to aspects of the programme covered in the HEI. In the PGCE (Primary) programmes, student teachers generally achieved good standards in their literacy work.

3.3.3 In both programmes, there was, however, a significant variation in the quality and, in some cases, the amount of work which student teachers within the same institution were producing at the time of the review. Some student teachers produced work of very high quality, particularly in written assignments and in lesson planning. Some of the research-based work, which required them to work independently, was also of a very high standard. However, some tasks did not challenge student teachers appropriately and the work was superficial.

3.3.4 Some student teachers, particularly at the earlier stages of the four-year programmes, lacked confidence in their ability to develop pupils' literacy skills. Many identified a need to develop their own command of language further, in particular, their understanding of grammar. Information about provision within the HEI to help them improve their own knowledge about language was not always readily available. In the best programmes, student teachers were not only making clear progress in their abilities as teachers of literacy, but were also aware that they were doing so. However, student teachers often expressed less confidence in their abilities than the reviewers would have expected from the work they had done. For example, many were diffident about their ability to match teaching to pupils' learning needs, though all programmes gave attention to this issue. Because of this lack of confidence, HEI staff need to reconsider the effectiveness of their approaches to such difficult aspects of teaching. All key stakeholders will also need to consider how and when these aspects can be revisited by newly qualified teachers through CPD.

Attainment in programmes for secondary teachers

3.3.5 In reviewing PGCE (Secondary) programmes and the concurrent degree in one HEI, most attention was focused on student teachers intending to teach English in secondary schools. However, reviewers also evaluated, where possible, the extent to which student teachers from other subject backgrounds were developing the teaching skills needed to address pupils' literacy needs in the subject context.

3.3.6 Across all programmes, most student teachers intending to teach English were being prepared well to develop pupils' literacy skills. However, as in the primary programmes, standards achieved by student teachers varied. Generally, student teachers displayed a good and sometimes very good awareness of and knowledge about key aspects of literacy. However, some had still to develop confidence in their ability to deal with particular issues in English teaching which they expected to encounter, such as mixed-ability classes and helping poor readers.

3.3.7 Some student teachers following secondary subject programmes other than English had a good understanding of issues for literacy across the curriculum, sometimes developed through optional programmes. Others were conscious of their own lack of knowledge about how they would develop necessary reading or writing skills for pupils in the context of their subjects.

3.4 Summary


Arrangements for Initial Teacher Education [ITE] in Scotland are contained within Guidelines for Initial Teacher Education Programmes in Scotland (SOEID 1998). These Guidelines also set out the 'competences' which should be acquired by all (pre-school, primary and secondary) teachers completing a programme in teacher education. The competences include the expectation that all student teachers will be able to play their full part in developing pupils' skills in literacy.

Strengths related to effective aspects of assessment/attainment for student teachers in HEIs and on school placement



Assessment and attainment issues and action points



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